Romanian govt in uproar amid austerity protests
Romania: The Romanian government was in an uproar Monday over austerity protests — the interior minister resigned, the opposition demanded the prime minister go as well and top police officials held emergency talks with the president.
The chaos reflected social fallout from the sharp wage cuts, tax hikes and other austerity measures the government has taken to fight its budget deficit amid a deep recession.
President Traian Basescu's government has been unable to pay wages and pensions without a euro20 billion ($26 billion) bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund and other lenders, and the IMF is demanding strong action to trim Romania's debt.
Romanians took to the streets of Bucharest, the capital, several times last week to protest. Some 6,000 police angry over a 25 percent wage cut marched to the presidential palace on Friday and pelted it with eggs, shouting "Get out, you miserable dog!"
On Monday, Interior Minister Vasile Blaga said the protesting officers had staged an illegal action and "forgot the oath they swore." Blaga, a close ally of Basescu, resigned, calling the move "one of honor."
Later, Blaga, Romania's top police chief and the head of its anti-riot police all held an emergency meeting with Basescu. There was no immediate word on the substance of the talks.
The Romanian president had dismissed his police protection in response to Friday's protest, which he said had undermined state authority. Prime Minister Emil Boc followed suit. Both are now relying instead on security paid for by the presidential budget, one of the few not reduced in this age of austerity.
Liberal Party lkeader Crin Antonescu, meanwhile, called on Boc to resign along with Blaga.
Amid the uproar there were lighter moments. Television cameras captured Basescu driving himself to work, puffing on a cigarette and speaking on his mobile phone in his Dacia Logan, an inexpensive Romanian-manufactured car. Stuck in traffic like any regular commuter, Basescu joked with reporters.
It is rare for Romanian television to show the president smoking.
In 2009, Romania's economy shrank 7.1 percent and the government needed the bailout from the IMF, the European Union and the World Bank, partly to pay state wages and pensions.
The anti-austerity protests are to continue this week.